Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek

DETAIL: Siewierz - A Plate and Activities with Mercury, 1975/2011


The artistic duo Zofia Kulik and Przemysław Kwiek called KwieKulik (1971-1987) is one of the most important artistic phenomena of post-war Polish art. KwieKulik's work is radically unique in the history of the neo-avantgarde in Central Europe, thanks to their socio-political engagement and their uncompromising, bold criticism of their surrounding reality. They produced different forms of archives, films, object installations and performed actions. The aim was to develop an art, understood as a process, on the threshold between daily experience and aesthetic practice. In their private living space KwieKulik continuously removed the boundaries between art and life, by creating their own 'underground' laboratory, in which they organised a series of lectures, screenings and exhibitions, resulting in the formation of the self-organised micro-institution PDDiU (Studio for Art Activities, Documentation and Propagation); this become the platform and documentation centre for the independent and unofficial art scene in socialist Poland. KwieKulik aimed to make art political once more. The authorities reacted with censorship and a travel ban.

KwieKulik activity has been researched and re-discovered recently. Their works were presented in Documenta 12 in Kassel (2007) and Istanbul Bienniale (2009). The first, major monograph edited by Łukasz Ronduda and Georg Schöllhammer will be published later this year.
The presentation of KwieKulik at the Art Feature Art 42 Basel reveals an extraordinary creative practice which merged innovative conceptual artistic actions with work made for money, commissioned by state agencies. In the reality of the communist economy, hackwork - designing and manufacturing occasional decorations, propaganda banners, and commemorative plaques - was the only source of income for artists whose "real" art, namely subversive and neo-avangarde practices, was marginalized and eliminated by the official cultural policy of the state. In the 1970's KwieKulik entered into a conscious and sophisticated game with the system of state sponsorship and control of artistic life. The actions from the Earning Money and Making Art series were invented when the artists were working on their commissioned orders - they began to grow on them, like parasite. Earning Money and Making Art was about a simultaneous production of hackwork and then using it as a basis for the artists' own projects. This was one of the unique creative methods developed by KwieKulik. In contrast to many other neo-avangarde artists active at that time in the former socialist block countries, KwieKulik were able to appropriate the oppressive propaganda apparatus, making it work for them, and refute the secure escapism of art in lieu of an open confrontation with hostile systems. KwieKulik's works, which are formally extraordinary and highly discursive in comparison to the conceptual strategists of that time, still remain extremely relevant and inspiring. They again reveal the strength and potential of artistic creation against the traps of institutionalization and commercialization of art.


Selected Exhhibitions:

1971 Współczesna Gallery, Warszawa (solo)
1971 The Dreamers' Convent, El Gallery, Elbla±g
1973 Cinema-Laboratory, El Gallery, Elbl±ag
1974 New Generation,
National Museum, Wrocław
1975 7 Young Poles, Malmö Konsthall, Malmö
1977 Projects, Performances - Czechoslovakia,
Poland, Knox Gallery, Buffalo
1978 Labirynt Gallery, Lublin (solo)
1979 Works and Words
- De Appel, Amsterdam
1981 Free International University,
Düsseldorf (solo)
1983 Moltkerei Werkstatt, Cologne (solo)
1985 Contemporary Art from Poland
- Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff
1986 Dziekanka, Warszawa
(also in 1984, 1985) (solo)
1987 Franklin Furnance, New York (solo)
1999 Grey in Colour 1956-1970, Zacheęta
National Gallery of Art, Warszawa
2007 Documenta 12, Kassel
2009 Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul
2010 Early Years, KunstWerke, Berlin
2010 BWA Awangarda Gallery, Wrocław (solo)
2010 Operators' Exercises: Open Form Film
and Architecture, Arthur Ross Architecture
Gallery, Columbia Univercity, New York
2011 The International, MACBA, Barcelona

Activities with AK Kinga Plate, 1974

In Activities with the AK Kinga Plate, KwieKulik, for the first time, developed a relational interaction on a hackwork piece. While carving the inscription 'In honour of the murdered National Army Soldiers [AK]' in the sandstone slab, they documented the Material-Spatial Activities they were performing on the plate using different objects like mandarins, onions, plaster heads made by their artist-friend Wojciechowski, letters cut out of black paper, a red scarf, their piece Unknown X, and even their son Maksymilian Dobromierz. The stone plate (together with the inscription) started to shift meanings. A commemorative plate (and inscription) turned into a prop, an 'element' embedded into a different chain of references.

DETAIL:Activities with AK Kinga Plate, 1974, slide projection, 40 slides, Edition of 3 + 2 A.P.

Siewierz - A Plate and Activities with Mercury, 1975

While they were working on another hackwork (a plaster plaque commemorating a doctor, Gawlik, for the hospital in the town of Siewierz), KwieKulik made a series of Activities with mercury balls, which leaked from a broken thermometer. They arranged the balls in a similar way as in Activities with Dobromierz (1972-1974), in relation to some mathematical-logical operations. This Activity begins with a shot of a TVscreen because as the action occurred the TV was broadcasting a popular didactic science programme on set theory.

DETAIL: Siewierz - A Plate and Activities with Mercury, 1975/2011, set of 5 lightboxes, 3x 60 x 87 x 9 cm, 20,5 x 258,5 x 9 cm, 38 x 27 cm, Edition of 3 + 2 A.P.

Activities with a Tube, 1975

Activities with a Tube belongs to a group of works KwieKulik developed in relation to commissioned hackwork. It was the first of these works that was neither linked to martyrdom nor propaganda. Made from pieces of cardboard and painted with oil paint, the seemingly Pop art piece looked as if it was made of plastic and was meant to advertise toothpaste. Using it like a strange fetish, Kwiek's sister Urszula, Zofia Kulik and her 3-year-old son Maksymilian Dobromierz performed thematic gestures towards the tube: saluting, bowing, standing at attention, shooting, teeth-brushing. The work was first presented to the public in 1977 at the New Trends in East-European Art exhibition organised by the Technical University in Eindhoven (NL).

Activities with a Tube, 1975/2009, 42 colour photographs (archival inkjet print),30 x 30 cm each, framed object (enamel painted cardboard tube), 148 x 40 x 28 cm. Edition of 3 + 2 A.P

Video Decoration, 1978

The work was commissioned by the SDP Association on the occasion of the 10th Meeting of Delegates of the Association of Polish Journalists (SDP). KwieKulik designed and made a decoration for the rostrum. As the job had to be produced on short notice, KwieKulik did not manage to document the process. Instead, the following day, as they watched the televised meeting on TV from their flat, they filmed the feature from the screen of their portable TV set. Among the participants of the meeting were Edward Gierek, the First Secretary of the Polish United Worker's Party (PZPR), and Jerzy Łukaszewicz, the Secretary of the Department of Culture of the Central Committee of the PZPR, whose special publication about cultural activists mentioned the artists, among others, as those who the Party should not support. In 2005, Kwiek and Kulik filmed the paper design decoration project with a digital camera and edited it together with the Super 8 mm film, featuring the scenes from the official ceremony, broadcast on national TV more than quarter of a century ago.

DETAIL: Video Decoration, 1978, digitalized 2005, DVD, 1'37", archival inkjet print on board, 40 x 30 cm, Edition of 5 + 2 A.P.

Together we will do more, 1977

Invited to the exhibition "Projects, Performances - Czechoslovakia, Poland" at the Hallwalls Gallery in Buffalo KwieKulik made a composition, "Together we will do more". For that purpose they used a Polish Socialist Youth Union propaganda poster (from which they took the title). On the poster they stuck a few pages of photocopied photographs ("aesthetic time-effects") from the series "Activities with Dobromierz." These photocopies came from the leaflet they made in the Galeria El in 1973. They cut the manipulated poster, size 83 x 57 cm, into eight equal A4 format pieces, so that they could send their work to the US in an envelope by regular mail. Unnumbered, parts of the poster created a kind of puzzle. They could be randomly arranged to obtain more or less grotesque design. Barely visible black-and-white photos of Dobromierz were reproduced on old yellowed paper by means of the technique of thermocopy, contrasting with cliché optimism beaming from the colour poster.


Together We Will Do More, 1977, collage, 83 x 57 cm, cut in 8 pieces, offset print (propaganda poster published by ZSMP, 1977), photocopies (copies of photographs from "Activities with Dobromierz" by KwieKulik, 1973), edition of 15 + 2 A.P.

Activities with Dobromierz, 1972-1974

Just after their son Maksymilian Dobromierz was born, KwieKulik started to elaborate this unique and enigmatic body of work. Activities with Dobromierz consists of around nine hundred photographs taken over two years in which the artists' son appears alongside various household objects. It is based on semiological, linguistic, and mathematical considerations. Indeed, in this piece, the artists tried to practically study the supposed subject / object polarity in artistic experience. The demand of the visual research that integrated life, art, and science was to elucidate the complex relationship between mathematical-logical operations on non-material notions (being) and material forms, or, in other words, to develop an epistemology of artistic practice. Concerned with the selfcommunication within an observer's psyche and the surrounding environment, Activities with Dobromierz aimed at nothing less than to be a model of the relations between art and society.

Activities with Dobromierz, 1972-74, digitalized 2008, Three-screen slide installation, HD, ca. 390 slides, 32', edition of 5 + 2 A.P.


Activities with Dobromierz, 1972-74, 48 black&white photographs (silver gelatin print),
30 x 36 cm each, paper frame, ca. 300 x 270 cm, edition of 3 + 2 A.P.

Variations of Red / The Path of Edward Gierek, 1971

KwieKulik presented these two series of images numerous times in various contexts and configurations. Variations of Red was composed from a collection of dozens of slides that contained a red element, like a piece of fabric, an inscription, etc. KwieKulik had gathered the footage when documenting their own and other artists' works. The Path of Edward Gierek consisted of compiling front pages of newspapers from 1971, the year after Gierek was chosen as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) [after the bloody events of December 1970, which resulted in political changes in Poland]. He is primarily seen meeting representatives of various milieus, often delegations of workers all over Poland. By stressing the repetitive gestures of Gierek, KwieKulik made an ironic comment on his new mode of leadership, one which pretended to be open to dialogue. The overt political implications of the work are obvious. Analyzing real and symbolic politics via a merging or juxtaposition of their imaginaries became constitutive in later KwieKulik works.

Variations of Red / The Path of Edward Gierek, 1971, digitalized 2005,
Two-screen slide installation, HD, 2x 136 slides, 11'33", edition of 5 + 2 A.P.

Manifestations, 1979-1982
film Super 8 mm transferred to DVD, four parts. edition of 5 + 2 A.P.

May 1st March, 1979, 12'27"

The Pope in Poland, 1979, 08'05"

Moscow Olimpics [from the TV screen], 1980 , 08'57"

Breżniew's Funeral [from the TV screen], 1982, 06'49"